Leaders Gotta Chill!

Sometimes I just have to laugh at my younger self for my innocence and naivete. My Mom still reminds me of my flawed thinking that I had two moms growing up – one in the city where I was born, and her. I also chuckle at how I thought I’d go in to education to stay out of politics! Yet, of all the memories, I still vividly live out the transformation I experience in thinking about true leadership.

During my doctoral coursework, we had the assignment to design and implement a school project. The project deadline was 18 months to implement the project and then share the findings based on the research and coursework learned thus far.

With all of the eagerness I could muster, I created my design and excitedly met with my advisor the following week. With the biggest grin from ear to ear, I shared my plan of how I would complete the task…16 months early!  Who needed 18 months, I could get it done in 2!  I can still see my advisor’s face in response – he had to be biting his tongue with all the patience he could muster.  Without crushing my spirit, he carefully pointed out that true change cannot be predicated on one person.  He then showed me that my action plan had me as the do-er of it all.  “What happens to the program after you leave?”

In my spirit of taking the bull by the horns, I mistakenly thought leadership meant taking it all on myself to show others what I could do.  One of my new favorite quotes I recently discovered has helped me with the reality:

If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.

The timing for this personal reflection comes at a great time, as I start my new role as Director of Secondary Education at Worthington City Schools.  What I failed to realize early in my career was that leaders tend to make the biggest mistake when they think it’s about them and what they build.  They implement programs, one after another, predicated on their sole leadership checking off the boxes on their ego-driven, checklist.

Kurt Lewin shared the importance for leaders to implement changes in a system through a three-step process: Unfreeze-Change-Refreeze.

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Too often, leaders, in that “get-r-done” mode, only worry about the first two steps.   They bring new ideas and share them with the stakeholders – UNFREEZE.  Then, they implement the new strategy with the most well-meaning attitude to help – CHANGE.  The problem is that they stop afterwards.  The change is occurring, and it might even seem to be working.  So, they move to the next initiative.  It’s like a that sideshow entertainer who spins 100 plates at once.

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The problem is that the entertainer can’t walk away from the plates without them dropping to the floor and breaking into millions of pieces.  Similarly, the problem with my doctoral action plan was that it was all predicated on me; if the leader walks away from it, it would cease to happen.

As leaders, it’s not about creating the plan for implementation, it’s about creating the plan for sustainability.

Leaders usually fail in implementing long-term change when they build the action plan solely on themselves.  While they make feel their heart is in the right place or just want to show off their talents, building a plan without using the expertise of the team will not create a shared vision for deep and long-term implementation.

While building a plan, it will have the best impact by continually asking yourself whether the initiative will still happen if you walk away.

So, as you begin to implement those amazing initiatives you’ve picked up from those summer book reads, Voxer groups, and Twitter chats, think about those spinning plates and Lewin’s system of UNFREEZE-CHANGE-FREEZE.

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